2015 Dog Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

In a blog from earlier this year, I disclosed New Jersey’s depressing animal shelter statistics. This blog explains why so many dogs are losing their lives in the state’s animal shelters and whether these facilities can end the killing.

Successful organizations set measurable goals and regularly monitor their performance. Examples include financial budgets, customer and employee satisfaction surveys, and product reliability metrics. Unfortunately, many animal shelters for far too long have failed to set lifesaving goals and standards. Municipalities, donors and volunteers need to know where their resources will be best utilized. Time and money are scarce resources and people should allocate these assets to organizations who will best utilize them. As a result, animal shelters need to set goals and hold their leadership and staff accountable for achieving these objectives.

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

In order to assess how good of a job New Jersey animal shelters are doing, I’ve developed an analysis I call the “Life Saving Model.” While shelter performance is dependent on many variables, such as finances, facility design, local laws, etc., the most critical factor impacting potential life saving is physical space. Without having enough physical space, a shelter might not have enough time to find loving homes for its animals. Shelters can overcome financial limitations through creative fundraising or recruiting more volunteers. Similarly, organizations can save their dogs despite having run down facilities if these groups enthusiastically implement policies to get animals into loving homes quickly. As a result, my analysis focuses on making the best use of space to save the maximum number of New Jersey dogs.

The Life Saving Model measures the number of local animals a shelter should adopt out, rescue from other facilities, send to rescues or other shelters, and euthanize. The targeted outcomes take into account each facility’s physical capacity and the number and types of dogs the organization receives from its community (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, cruelty/bite cases). I assume a target euthanasia rate, take the number of dogs actually returned to owners and then estimate how many community dogs a shelter should adopt out. To the extent space runs out, I then calculate how many dogs the shelter must send to rescues. If the shelter has excess space after properly serving its local community, the facility uses that room to rescue and adopt out dogs from nearby areas. The targeted results calculated from this model are compared to the actual or estimated actual results from each shelter below.

To read specific details and assumptions used in the model, please see the Appendix at the end of this blog.

My analysis puts a cap on the targeted numbers of rescued dogs from other shelters and adoptions. While my unmodified targeted numbers of rescued and adopted animals are quite achievable, I want to provide very conservative goals for New Jersey animals shelters. For example, the unmodified model resulted in a statewide per capita dog adoption rate less than one half to one quarter the level found at some of the best animal control shelters. Similarly, the unmodified model yielded a statewide pit bull per capita adoption rate (2.2 pit bulls per 1,000 people) that is less than one of the best animal control shelters in the country. In my opinion, New Jersey shelters could more easily achieve that pit bull adoption rate given my model includes far fewer dogs from competing breeds than those in this role model animal control shelter.

My modified analysis capped pit bull adoptions at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people within each New Jersey county. In other words, the targeted numbers of dogs rescued from other shelters and adopted below are the lesser of

  1. Number predicted by model
  2. Number determined by capping pit bull adoptions at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in the county

In simple terms, a shelter is expected to achieve this per capita adoption rate unless the facility lacks enough space. If a shelter does not have sufficient room, it won’t have the time to reach all the potential adopters and requires assistance from rescues and/or other facilities. Given my model assumes 80% of rescued dogs are pit bull like dogs, my targeted numbers of dogs rescued and adopted are quite low as detailed in the section below. For example, shelters in counties where dog adoptions are capped have extra space that they do not use to adopt out other dog breeds.

New Jersey Animal Shelters Contain Enough Space to Save All of New Jersey’s Dogs and Many More from Other States

New Jersey’s animal shelter system has enough space to save all of the state’s healthy and treatable dogs. The table below details the targeted numbers of dog outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 23,344 New Jersey dogs coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2015, 12,363 and 1,177 dogs should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the dogs in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had more than enough capacity to rescue the 1,177 dogs from space constrained facilities. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters should be able to able to adopt out every single healthy and treatable dog taken in from the state and not require any support from rescue organizations without physical facilities.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many dogs from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out 9,066 dogs from out of state after achieving a 95% live release rate for New Jersey dogs. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters could make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for dogs and increase those cities’ dog live release rates to 95% in 2015 as follows:

  • New York City – 1,282 additional dogs need saving
  • Philadelphia – 1,728 additional dogs need saving

Additionally, New Jersey animal shelters could save another 6,056 dogs from other locations outside of the state. Of course, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some dogs from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. However, most of these dogs are likely easy to adopt and therefore have short lengths of stay. As a result, the additional number of dogs New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City, Philadelphia and elsewhere is probably not much lower than the figures above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for dogs as well as many other places.

These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 2.5 dogs per 1,000 people in the state (1.5 dogs if no dogs rescued from out of state). As a comparison, recent per capita dog adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Lynchburg Humane Society (Lynchburg, Virginia) – 14.2 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colorado area) – 10.8 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada and Carson City, Nevada areas) – 8.4 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Charlottesville, Virginia area) – 8.2 dogs per 1,000 people
  • KC Pet Project (Kansas City, Missouri) – 6.9 dogs per 1,000 people

Thus, many communities are already adopting out around three to six times as many dogs as the goal set for New Jersey animal shelters.

Some naysayers may claim New Jersey would have a more difficult time due to the state’s shelters taking in many pit bulls. However, this is a myth. My model estimates New Jersey animal shelters would need to adopt out roughly 0.6 pit bulls per 1,000 people to save 95% of New Jersey’s dogs. Our shelters would only need to adopt out around 1.4 pit bulls per 1,000 people if New Jersey shelters also rescued and adopted out the targeted number of pit bulls from other states. As a comparison, I estimate Longmont Humane Society adopts out 2.4 pit bulls per 1,000 people based on its 2014 per capita pit bull intake, the percentage dog adoptions were of total outcomes at the shelter in 2014 and Longmont Humane Society’s 15% increase in dog adoptions in 2015 compared to 2014. Furthermore, the pit bull adoption targets are even more reasonable given the model assumes there are roughly 1/8 of the number of dogs from other breeds to compete with in the New Jersey adoption market compared to the Longmont, Colorado area.


Animal Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

The goal of any properly managed animal shelter is to save all of its healthy and treatable animals. In some cases, such as selective admission rescue oriented shelters, it is pretty easy to not kill animals. In addition, other animal shelters with easy to service animal control contracts (i.e. few animals impounded, most strays quickly returned to owners) can avoid unnecessary killing due to having lots of extra space. As a result, some shelters may have an easier time than others in preventing killing at their shelters.

The table below details the local dog death rates. Consistent with the Life Saving Model’s assumptions, the actual dogs euthanized/killed/died/missing assumes these dogs came from the local community. All dogs missing are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. Furthermore, I assume all dogs listed in the “Other” category on each shelter’s reporting form are dead or missing. Shelters having local dog death rates less than and greater than 5% are highlighted in green and red in the table below.

Several rescue oriented shelters had unusually high local dog death rates. While this number may be higher if some rescued dogs are euthanized/killed (i.e. targeted number assumes no rescued dogs are killed/euthanized) or many terminally ill dogs are surrendered for owner-requested euthanasia, this may possibly point to overly strict temperament testing at these facilities. In the case of St. Hubert’s-Madison, which had a total dog death rate of 6% (i.e. percentage of all dogs taken in and not just community dogs) and a local dog death rate of 10%, the total death rate may be artificially depressed by easy to adopt transported dogs. For the Humane Society of Atlantic County, which has no animal control contracts, the total dog death rate of 28% is shockingly high for a rescue oriented shelter and raises serious questions about how life and death decisions are made by this organization. The local death rates at other rescue oriented shelters, such as Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge and Common Sense for Animals (local death rates of 1% and 2%) are much lower than St. Hubert’s-Madison and the Humane Society of Atlantic County. Thus, I find it difficult to believe St. Hubert’s-Madison’s and Humane Society of Atlantic County’s larger than expected local death rates are due to them rescuing a large percentage of their dogs from other shelters.

The largest number of dogs unnecessarily dying occurred at a relatively small number of shelters. Specifically, 12 out of 96 or 13% of the shelters accounted for 81% of the 2,355 dogs unnecessarily losing their lives. Shelters with the greatest number of unnecessary dog deaths are as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies – Newark (463)
  • Trenton Animal Shelter (236)
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter (217)
  • Burlington County Animal Shelter (174)

Thus, the bulk of the dogs unnecessarily dying at New Jersey animals shelters occurs at a small number of facilities.




Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Require Little Rescue Assistance

Some animal shelters will require more support from rescues and animal shelters with excess space than others. If a shelter has relatively high intake, very limited space, and few stray dogs returned to owners, it will need more help than other shelters. The table below compares the number of dogs a shelter should transfer to other organizations per the model and the number of dogs actually sent to other animal welfare groups. Shelters marked in green are receiving less than the expected rescue support while facilities marked in red are receiving too much rescue help.

Overall, most New Jersey animal shelters require little rescue support if space-constrained facilities fast-track their most highly adoptable dogs. Shelter medicine experts advocate prioritizing the processing of highly adoptable animals to make the best use of space and reduce disease. For example, making sure these animals are the first to get spayed/neutered and vaccinated and receive microchips to ensure they can leave as soon as the shelter finds a good home.

Three shelters did not receive enough help from other animal welfare organizations. Only 12 out of the 96 facilities require any rescue support. In other words, 84 of the 96 animal shelters in the state should not need rescues or other shelters to pull any dogs due to limited space. Northern Ocean Animal Facility, Southern Ocean Animal Facility and Harmony Animal Hospital received less rescue support than needed. However, none of the shelters reported rescues taking any animals, which raises questions as to whether these shelters correctly reported their data. Thus, virtually all New Jersey shelters are receiving enough rescue assistance.

Associated Humane Societies-Newark hogged up the most rescue support. Specifically, rescues and other shelters pulled 701 more dogs than needed from AHS-Newark. Even worse, AHS-Tinton Falls and AHS-Popcorn Park rescued far fewer dogs than they should. As a result of this poor performance, AHS diverted much needed rescue assistance from more needy shelters in the region.

Rescue groups and shelters with extra space should pull dogs from kill shelters with the highest rescue “target” numbers and deficits in the tables below. If shelters not needing rescue support get that extra help, these shelters will not take the steps necessary to properly run their facilities. As a result of enabling poorly performing shelters and not pulling dogs from truly space constrained facilities, rescuing dogs from shelters with enough space leads to less lifesaving.

Shelters receiving less than needed rescue support should also examine their own policies and performance. Are the shelter’s operating processes allowing too many animals to get sick and therefore discouraging organizations to rescue their animals due to subsequent medical costs? Does the shelter actively reach out to rescues/other shelters and treat them with respect? Does the shelter make it convenient for other organizations to pull their animals?

Given killing animals for space is intolerable, the space-constrained shelters need to expand their effective dog capacity. These facilities could use extra space in their buildings to house dogs on a short-term basis. These shelters can enter into arrangements with local veterinarians to house and adopt out some dogs. Furthermore, shelters can create or expand foster programs to increase the number of dogs cared for. Additionally, creating a pet owner surrender prevention program and making serious efforts to return lost dogs to owners could free up space in these shelters. Finally, space-constrained shelters with multiple animal control contracts should terminate some of these arrangements to bring their capacity for care in line with the number of dogs they take in. As a result, space constrained shelters still need to take active steps to reduce killing rather than simply solely relying on rescue support.

In certain circumstances, it may make sense for shelters with excess space to send dogs to rescues. For example, a unique breed or a dog needing very specialized behavioral or medical rehabilitation. However, these cases are relatively uncommon and do not significantly impact this analysis.




Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Fail to Come Close to Reaching Their Local Dog Adoption Potential

We can assess each shelter’s contribution to making New Jersey and nearby areas no kill. While a shelter may be able to avoid killing healthy and treatable animals, it still may not live up to its potential for adopting out local dogs. On the other hand, a space constrained shelter may kill healthy and treatable dogs, but still do a good job adopting animals out.

The tables below compare the number of dogs from New Jersey and nearby states each animal shelter should adopt out with the estimated number of local dogs actually adopted out.

Many rescue oriented shelters likely pull much easier to adopt dogs than the bulk of dogs needing to get rescued from local facilities. Thus, the results from rescue oriented shelters may look better than they actually are.

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 8 out of 96 shelters met the adoptions goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

Several rescue oriented shelters exceeded or came close to achieving their adoption targets. Beacon Animal Rescue and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge adopted out more animals than I targeted. While these organizations are both rescue-oriented shelters that appear to pull fewer pit bulls than I target, these two shelters do at least have a reasonable number of pit bull like dogs up for adoption. Additionally, these shelters rescue animals primarily from other New Jersey animal shelters rather than transport large numbers of dogs from the south. St. Hubert’s-Madison and St. Hubert’s-North Branch also exceeded their adoption targets. Despite these shelters having some animal control contracts, this organization rescues most of its animal from other shelters. St. Hubert’s uses progressive adoption policies, such as open or conversational based adoptions, adopts animals out as gifts, and adopts out animals almost every day of the year. On the other hand, St. Hubert’s appears to rescue far more adoptable animals than my model assumes (i.e. 80% of rescued dogs are pit bulls) and that likely also may explain their strong performance. Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter and Salem County Humane Society also exceeded their adoption targets, but this is likely due to these organizations rescuing easier to adopt dogs from New Jersey.

Three animal control shelters exceeded their adoption targets, but this was likely due to factors unrelated to performance. As discussed above, both Northern Ocean Animal Facility and Southern Ocean Animal Facility reported no animals sent to rescue. Personally, I doubt this is the case and it is likely rescues saved a significant number of dogs reported as adopted. Additionally, these two shelters may have benefited from the method I used to cap adoptions in the county and reduce the adoption targets for these two shelters. For example, Northern Ocean Animal Facility and Southern Ocean Animal Facility only reached 84% and 87% of their adoption targets using my unadjusted model only taking the shelter’s physical space into account. Similarly, Montville Animal Shelter also likely benefited from the method I used to cap adoptions as the shelter only reached 34% of its unadjusted adoption target. Thus, none of the animal control shelters in the state may have really done a great job adopting out dogs.

Shelters adopting out the fewest animals in total relative to their targets were as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 1,727 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park – 1,138 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls – 633 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Monmouth SPCA – 587 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Bergen Protect and Rescue Foundation – 530 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter – 477 fewer dogs adopted than targeted

Unsurprisingly, Associated Humane Societies has archaic adoption policies that make it more difficult to adopt than the procedures recommended from national animal welfare organizations. Furthermore, Associated Humane Societies-Newark, Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls, Monmouth SPCA, Bergen Protect and Rescue Foundation and Bergen County Animal Shelter had troublesome stories involving the shelters and/or prominent people affiliated with these organizations over the last couple of years.




Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Local Dogs

To further examine New Jersey animal shelters’ performance in saving the state’s homeless dogs, I compared the targeted number of dogs each shelter should pull from nearby shelters and compared it to the number actually rescued from local facilities. I assume all reported out of state rescued dogs came from southern or other far away states (except for Animal Alliance due to the shelter stating it primarily pulls out of state dogs from Pennsylvania). While some of the out of state rescued dogs may have comes from nearby areas, I believe this is a small number and does not significantly impact the results.

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of local dogs they should. 87 of the 96 shelters should rescue some dogs from other local shelters. In fact, 50 of the 87 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single dog from a New Jersey animal shelter. Of the 87 shelters with the space to rescue dogs from nearby shelters, only Somerset Regional Animal Shelter, Montville Animal Shelter, Salem County Humane Society, Animal Welfare Association, Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter, St. Hubert’s-North Branch, St. Hubert’s-Madison, Beacon Animal Rescue and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge met or exceeded their local dog rescue targets. As mentioned above, many of these shelters local rescue numbers are inflated due to these organizations cherry picking highly adoptable animals to rescue. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of local healthy and treatable dogs.

Shelters can overcome challenges in rescuing dogs from outside their service area. In some cases, municipalities may frown on government run shelters using taxpayer funds to rescue dogs from elsewhere. However, shelter directors at these facilities can encourage individuals to form a non-profit or raise money on their own to pay for these rescued dogs. Additionally, shelters with limited capacity or even some of the well-off private shelters could contribute funding for each dog rescued. For example, Maddie’s Fund paid an approximate $160 subsidy to rescues pulling dogs from New York Animal Care & Control. Similarly, private shelters with excess space, but limited financial resources, could expand their fundraising efforts to save more local dogs. Thus, perceived obstacles to rescuing local dogs can and should be overcome.




New Jersey Animal Shelters Need to Form Life-Saving Coalitions

The improper allocation of space within the state’s animal shelter system requires organizations to form coalitions. While putting a competent and compassionate director in every shelter would likely be even more effective, that will likely take time to do. No kill coalitions between animal control facilities and selective admission shelters have been used in places, such as Portland, Oregon, Reno, Nevada, Jacksonville, Florida and Austin, Texas to radically increase life saving. Maddie’s Fund, which has supported using coalitions for over a decade, has many resources for organizations seeking to collaborate with each other. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters need to formally work together, develop quantifiable and measurable goals (such as the targeted outcomes in this blog), and hold each organization accountable for meeting these benchmarks.

Sobering Results Require Shelter Leaders to Critically Examine Themselves

Shelters should examine the reasons why their adoption numbers fall far short of these benchmarks. In some cases, shelters need to expand the hours they are open for adoptions. Many shelters should switch from an overly judgmental adoption process based on black and white rules to a conversational one focused on educating the adopter. Organizations will need to radically increase their off-site events and do same day adoptions. Similarly, many shelters must reduce adoption fees and run frequent promotions. Executive Directors should monitor the latest life-saving programs on Maddie’s Fund’s, ASPCA Pro’s, the 2015 American Pets Alive Conference’s and the Best Friends National Conference’s web sites and put some of these policies into place. Shelter management teams will need to ensure their facilities are clean and customers are treated with respect (this can be measured by encouraging the public to complete surveys). Thus, poorly performing shelters need to stop making excuses and do what it takes to reach their adoption potential.

We can turn New Jersey, New York City and Philadelphia into no kill communities. It is time we give our money and volunteer efforts to organizations who raise their performance to help us reach that goal. To do otherwise, would betray all the animals whose lives are on the line.

Appendix – Life Saving Model Assumptions

The Life Saving Model utilizes the following basic animal shelter population equations to calculate the targeted dog outcomes for each facility:

Daily capacity or population = Daily animal intake x average length of stay

Average length of stay = Daily capacity or population/daily intake

Each shelter’s community dog intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty bite cases), number of dogs returned to owners, and maximum dog capacity were taken from its 2015 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the Office of Animal Welfare.

This data was then used as follows:

  • Community dog intake and dogs returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 dogs were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 dogs (240/12). In July, the dog intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 dogs by 1.2 to equal 24 dogs. If 120 dogs were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of dogs returned to owners in July would equal 12 dogs (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off the average of the 2015 dog intake data on New York Animal Care & Control’s and ACCT Philly’s web sites.
  • The estimated number of community dogs returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country. If anything, this estimate is conservative (i.e. average length of stay for dogs returned to owners may be less than 5 days and therefore frees up more shelter space for adoptions) based on some shelters returning the bulk of their dogs to owners within 3 days.
  • The number of community dogs euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 5% of intake. 5% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate for shelters in New Jersey to meet given few vulnerable stray puppies (i.e. who could die or require euthanasia) arrive in the state’s animal shelters. The average length of stay for euthanized dogs is assumed to equal 14.5 days. Half of dogs are assumed euthanized for untreatable aggression towards people and 21 days is the time estimated to make that determination. The other half of dogs are assumed euthanized for severe and untreatable health issues and I estimate these dogs are euthanized after 8 days (subsequent to the end of the stray and owner surrender hold periods).
  • Adopted dogs are assumed to stay at shelters for varying lengths of time. Adoption length of stay was based on data from a study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare and the figures used (except for space-constrained shelters) are located in a prior blog on pit bull adoption. The data primarily comes from Tompkins County SPCA during a time it saved over 90% of its dogs. This was a fairly conservative data set to use as other no kill open admission shelters’ average length of stay are substantially shorter. Specifically, the following assumptions were made:
    1. 80% and 20% of each communities dogs (including pit bulls) were adults 1 year and older and under 1 year.
    2. Pit bulls were assumed to comprise 50%, 35% and 25% of community dog intake at poor, middle/upper middle class, and wealthy area animal control shelters. While some shelters may have pit bulls comprising more than 50% of their shelter dog population at a given time, this is due to pit bulls longer average length of stay. For example, a shelter with pit bulls making up 50% of their dog intake and pit bulls having an average length of stay three times longer than other dogs will have pit bulls constituting 75% of the dog population. Shelters without animal control contracts were assumed to only have pit bulls make up 10% of their community dogs (i.e. strays and owner surrenders) based on most of these shelters’ highly selective admission practices.
    3. Pit bull adoption length of stay was taken directly from the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare study. The average adoption lengths of stay for other breeds from this study were averaged and used for dogs other than pit bulls in the analysis
  • Space constrained shelters were assumed to adopt out their easiest to adopt animals first until they ran out of space. To estimate the average adoption length of stay, I used pit bull adoption length of stay data from Greenhill Humane Society from March 2013 through May 2015. I broke the adoption length of stay data into 5 groups that each made up 20% of the data. The average adoption length of stay for each of these 5 groups was calculated. The average adoption length of stay of each group was divided by the average length of stay for all of the adopted pit bulls in the Greenhill Humane Society data set. Those percentages were then multiplied by the average dog adoption length of stay determined in the previous bullet and used to determine the adoption lengths of stay used for space-constrained shelters.
  • Dogs transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community dogs not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month. However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, dogs are moved from adoption (i.e. longer length of stay) to rescue (i.e. shorter length of stay) until the calculated length of stay each month approximately equals the required length of stay.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s reported capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter dogs are saved, I assume additional dogs are pulled from nearby states with similar types of dogs. I assume all rescued dogs will not be killed since the transferring and receiving shelters should evaluate these dogs’ behavior. Based on pit bull type dogs having longer lengths of stay at shelters, I assume 80% of dogs rescued from local animal shelters are pit bulls and 20% are non-pit bulls. 80% and 20% of pit bull and non-pit bull type dogs are considered 1 year and older and under 1 year. The average length of stay for rescued pit bulls and other dogs are the same as the adoption length of stay figures above.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many local dogs New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue, rescue from other nearby animal shelters and euthanize.
  • The targeted number of dogs rescued and adopted were capped at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in each county. If the model yielded a higher result than this cap, the targeted numbers of dogs adopted were set to equal to this cap using the pit bull percentage assumptions above. For shelters in these counties (except Passaic County), I calculated the cap at the county level and then reduced the number of cats adopted for the county to equal the cap. I excluded West Milford from Passaic County due the town’s large distance from the population centers in the rest of the county. Each shelter’s percentage of total targeted adoptions in the county from the unmodified model were applied to the the total reduction in the number of adoptions in the county to yield the targeted numbers of dogs adopted in the modified model. If the shelter also rescued animals from other shelters, the rescued numbers were also reduced since I assume rescued animals are adopted.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s No Kill Con Job (Part 3 of 3)

12/2/16 Update: Subsequent to my publishing of this blog, the borough of Teterboro sent me a second inspection report. This report, like the other, indicated the Bergen County Health Department failed to properly inspect the shelter it runs.

12/27/16 Update: The borough of Teterboro provided me the 2016 inspection report after I posted this blog. As with the 2014 and 2015 inspection reports, this inspection failed to identify the problems discussed in this blog.

In Part 1 of this series of blogs, I showed how Bergen County Animal Shelter’s statistics prove the county’s claims of running a no kill facility are false. My second blog highlighted the absurd justifications Bergen County Animal Shelter uses to kill many animals. This final blog will explain why Bergen County Animal Shelter kills so many healthy and treatable animals.

Regressive Health Department Controls Shelter

Bergen County delegates control of the shelter to an agency focused on protecting people from animals rather than a department focused on saving lives. Per Bergen County Animal Shelter’s policies and procedures manual, the County’s Health Officer, who is under the authority of the Bergen County Board of Health, is “responsible for the overall operations of the animal shelter” and “sets the policies and procedures of the animal shelter.” The Health Officer, Nancy Mangieri, who has worked as a nurse and in the field of public health diseases, has no apparent expertise in animal sheltering policies on her Linkedin profile.

Health departments typically are terrible at running animal shelters. Given the mission of these agencies are to protect public health, they are often hostile to shelter animals. Theoretically, shelter animals pose a public health risk in that they could have certain diseases or bite someone. Of course, these risks are tiny and the general public would gladly take on these very small risks in exchange for saving lives. That is why shelters have adoption programs after legal hold periods end. However, health departments in my experience are often solely focused on miniscule health risks and seek to eliminate them at the expense of killing healthy and treatable animals. Thus, Bergen County’s elected officials chose to deceive the public about how its overly aggressive Board of Health is killing massive numbers of healthy and treatable animals.

Local health departments typically fail to properly inspect animal shelters. Under New Jersey animal shelter law, local health departments must inspect animal shelters each year. In reality these entities are ill-equipped to inspect animal shelters. Local health departments are used to inspecting places, such as restaurants, which are far different than animal shelters. Furthermore, the same health department that inspects Bergen County Animal Shelter is also responsible for running the shelter. Clearly, this is a conflict of interest and recent experience in the state shows it plays out in poor quality inspections.

Bergen County Department of Health Services’ inspection quality was poor. Upon requesting several inspection reports, the Bergen County Department of Health Services claimed it possessed none of its own reports. Instead, I was instructed to contact the borough of Teterboro, which is where the shelter is located. The 2014 inspection report Teterboro sent me contained literally 10 sentences. The inspection report did not address any of the issues, such as the shelter killing animals during the 7 day hold period and not weighing animals prior to euthanasia, I identified in my last blog. Similarly, the 2015 inspection report had only 3 general sentences. While the 2016 inspection report did point out some issues, the commentary was light and the report still gave the shelter a satisfactory grade. Clearly, the Bergen County Department of Health Services did a poor job of inspecting the shelter it runs.

The Shelter Director, Deborah Yankow, is responsible for carrying out the facility’s policies according the shelter’s policies and procedures manual. Based on Ms. Yankow’s Linkedin profile, she did not seem to have any significant animal shelter or rescue experience prior to becoming the Shelter Director. Furthermore, her Linkedin profile does not seem to show any super successful experience in another challenging field, such as business, law, finance, or medicine, that would translate into her becoming a successful shelter director.

Owner Surrender Policy Proves Shelter Violates 7 Day Hold Period

In Part 2 of this blog, I revealed that Bergen County Animal Shelter killed a large number of dogs and cats surrendered by their owners during the 7 day hold period. Bergen County Animal Shelter killed 185 dogs and 210 cats surrendered by their owners. 56% of these dogs and 29% of these cats were classified as owner-requested euthanasia. As discussed in Part 2 of this series of blogs, shelters cannot kill owner surrendered animals under state law during the 7 day hold period unless a veterinarian clearly documents the animal is hopelessly suffering and the veterinarian euthanizes the animal. Based on many records I reviewed, the shelter often did not fulfill these requirements.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s policy and procedures manual clearly states the facility can kill owner surrendered animals immediately:

Animals in the shelter fall under one of the following categories, which should be clearly defined on their cage cards:

  • Owner release: Immediately becoming property of BCAS (available for adoption, rescue, or euthanasia).
  • Stray: Found by Good Sam or Animal Control:  These animals must await a 7 day hold prior to becoming property of BCAS.
  • SPCA case: These animals are housed at the shelter; they are not up for adoption.  If sick, the veterinarian on duty and an SPCA official must be contacted immediately.
  • Owner hold: These are usually cases where an owner had gone into the hospital and we are holding the animals until further arrangements can be made.  We do not do boarding.
  • Court Cases

Furthermore, the Owner Release Agreement the shelter puts in its policies and procedures manual clearly states the facility can immediately kill animals who are “sick, injured or unadoptable.” The shelter can only euthanize sick or injured animals if those creatures are hopelessly suffering as documented by a veterinarian. Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter can never immediately kill an animal just because the shelter claims he or she is “unadoptable.”

To make matters worse, this Owner Release Agreement states family members who contest the surrender cannot get the animal back. In other words, an abusive family member can take another family member’s pet to the shelter and the owner could not prevent the shelter from killing their beloved dog, cat or other animal. One of the key reasons New Jersey passed the owner surrender hold period law several years ago was to prevent abusive family members from doing this very thing. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter violates both the letter and the spirit of the owner surrender hold period law.


New Jersey law (N.J.A.C. 8:23A) defines owner as, “every person having a right of property in that (dog) and every person who has that (dog) in his or her keeping, and when applied to the proprietorship of any other animal including, but not limited to, a cat, means every person having a right of property in that animal and every person who has that animal in his or her keeping”.

By accepting surrender of this animal, the Bergen County Animal Shelter assumes ownership of said animal, including all rights and privileges attendant with such ownership.  Those rights include placing for adoption, spay/neutering, immunizing, treating and/or humanely euthanizing sick, injured or unadoptable animals.  Once an animal has been surrendered, it may not be released to family members or others who contest this surrender.

I hereby attest that I am the owner of this animal and have the right to surrender that ownership to the Bergen County Animal Shelter I also attest that there are no other parties that can dispute any right to surrender said ownership.

Surrendering Owner’s Name: _____________________________________________________

Address: ___________________________________________State: ________ Zip: _________

Surrendering Owner’s Phone #: ____________________________________________________

Owner’s Signature: _______________________________________Date:__________________

Signature of Shelter Employee witnessing Owner Signature: _____________________________

Temperament Testing Animals to Death Enshrined as a Policy

In Part 2 of this series of blogs, I documented the shelter’s outrageous use of behavioral evaluations to kill dogs. Sadly, the shelter’s policies and procedures manual codifies condemning animals to death based on tests proven by science as unreliable.

While the shelter states it may take staff and volunteer comments into account, “3 experienced staff members” make the life or decision after they conduct their formal evaluation. If the shelter classifies an animal as “unadoptable”, the shelter’s policy is to kill the animal without providing any rehabilitation. While the policy also states it will make “efforts” to send these animals to rescues, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s own records showed the facility only sent 6 cats and 1 dog to rescues during 2015. The shelter states animals are unadoptable if they exhibit “unmanageable health problems” and “unmanageable anti-social behavior characteristics.” As we saw in my last blog and Part 1 of this series, Bergen County Animal Shelter classifies far too many animals in the unmanageable category by the standards of real no kill shelters and even the deeply flawed Asilomar Accords. Even worse, the shelter classifies animals with “an aggressive bite history toward other animals” as unadoptable. For example, a dog that did not like cats or a cat that did not like dogs would be slated for death at this so-called “no kill shelter” based on this policy. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s culture of killing is codified in its policies.

The policy and objective of the Shelter is to adopt out as many animals as possible. Incoming animals released by their owner and stray animals that have completed their 7 day hold will be evaluated by a committee of 3 experienced staff members, including the animal behaviorist, as to their appropriateness for adoption.  Characteristics to be taken into account are:  history (if known), temperament and health.  Evaluations will be done in a quiet, screened area of the education room using the BCAS evaluation form.  Comments by staff and volunteers who have observed the animal during the holding period may be taken into consideration.  Notations are to be made on the individual animal record.

Evaluated animals fall into three categories:

  • Adoptable – Adoptable animals are those in reasonably good health with no aggressive bite history, who are positive toward humans, get along with other animals and do not display habits or behaviors that will make it difficult for them to adapt to a home environment.
  • Potentially adoptable – Potentially adoptable animals are those with no aggressive bite history, whose health problems are relatively minor, non-communicable and manageable with treatment, and whose behavioral problems may be improved with training, exercise and/or socialization.
  • Unadoptable – Unadoptable animals are those with serious unmanageable health problems, or an aggressive bite history toward humans or other animals, or who exhibit unmamageable antisocial behavioral characteristics.

Unadoptable – Animals designated as Unadoptable will be humanely euthanized.  Efforts will be made prior to that decision for an approved rescue to pull the animal.

Flawed TNR Policy

Bergen County Animal Shelter received much praise from those in the animal welfare community for actively participating in TNR programs. For example, the shelter helped Kearny TNR activists pass a TNR friendly ordinance and alters cats in the TNR program.

Unfortunately, Bergen County Animal Shelter puts too many restrictions on TNR programs. For example, in a recent news article about an effort to enact TNR in Lyndhurst, the shelter suggested only trained volunteers, who must go through a 2 day training course, should feed cats and those volunteers could only feed cats in designated areas. Policies like these often limit the effectiveness of TNR efforts as trap and kill will be used in other areas where TNR is prohibited. Due to the vacuum effect, unaltered cats will quickly move in where trap and kill is practiced. Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter appears to limit cat colony sizes to 10-20 animals based on language in its policy and procedures manual. This may result in sterilizing too small a percentage of the cat population to reduce the number of cats. In contrast, the Million Cat Challenge, inspired by successful return to field programs in places like Jacksonville, Florida, Albuquerque, New Mexico and San Antonio, Texas, advocates returning sterilized healthy cats back to the locations where they were found even when there is no colony caretaker when shelter killing is the likely alternative. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s advocacy for TNR, which is definitely a good thing, has some serious problems.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s policy and procedures manual spreads myths about feral cats and the shelter kills feral cats on the behalf of regressive municipalities. Specifically, the policies and procedures manual states cats in unregulated colonies are “likely in poor health”, can become “aggressive when cornered” and “increase the possibility of rabies transmission to humans.” In reality, we know many cats, such as those in the return to field programs described above, are healthy outside of “managed colonies” and do not pose any meaningful health risk to people. Finally, Bergen County Animal Shelter enables regressive municipalities by trapping and killing their so called feral cats. If Bergen County Animal Shelter refused to do this dirty work, many of these municipalities would reconsider their catch and kill statutes.

They tend to congregate in groups or colonies and are usually fearful of and avoid humans, possibly becoming aggressive when cornered.  Since their diets and living conditions are unpredictable, they are likely to be in poor health and have generally neither been neutered or immunized.  Feral cats often end up salvaging for food in the local dumpster along with wildlife that may be infected with rabies.  The proximity of unregulated feral cat habitats to humans increases the possibility of rabies transmission to humans.

In some communities, feral cats are valued for their rodent control activities.  Regulated Feral Cat colonies consisting of 10 to 20 cats have been established in those communities with a resident assuming the role of Colony Manager.  With the Manager’s cooperation, Bergen County Animal Control Officers trap these animals, have them immunized against rabies and have them spayed or neutered by special arrangement with a local veterinarian.  These animals are placed in cages clearly marked T & R (for Trap and Release), are given temporary housing until immunized, neutered, earmarked and returned to the colony.

Other communities have passed ordinances restricting establishments of colonies.  Stray cats picked up from these communities generally end up being euthanized since there is nowhere to return them.  All incoming stray cats not belonging to the trap and release program are held for 7 days to make sure that they are feral and no someone’s missing pet. Cats and kittens initially brought in as feral may be reassessed as adoptable during the 7 day hold and moved into the general population.

Shelter Makes it Difficult for Pet Owners to Reclaim their Lost Family Members

Bergen County Animal Shelter refuses to provide any information over the phone about animals to owners of lost pets. The shelter’s bizarre policy only allows staff to give a “yes” answer if someone provides a description of the animal. In the past, Bergen County Animal Shelter used to post photos of lost animals and descriptions of where animal control picked them up. Unfortunately, the shelter stopped doing this several years ago and now states that staff on the phone won’t look for your lost pet and you will have to come to the shelter yourself to do so. Clearly, this policy makes it more difficult for owners to find their lost family members and likely results in the shelter killing more animals as well as incurring increased costs as animals needlessly stay at the shelter longer.

Even worse, the shelter charges reclaim fees of $55, $80 and $105 for owners losing their animals for the first, second and third times plus a daily boarding fee. No documented policy I saw allows staff to waive or reduce these fees in cases of hardship. For economically disadvantaged pet owners, the shelter could literally kill their family members if the pet owners do not make these ransom payments.

The Wisconsin Watchdog blog posted a “how to” guide for shelters to increase their return to owner rates. Tips include immediately posting stray dog photos to shelter web sites and Facebook pages (Lost and Found Pets New Jersey is another great place for shelters in this state). Additionally, Wisconsin Watchdog recommends having specific volunteers check lost pet reports and help owners coming to shelters to find their lost pets. Also, they recommend giving guidance to owners on how to find their lost pet who is not at the shelter. Shelters should read and implement all the recommendations. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s does not follow best practices to increase owner reclaims and therefore make it more likely lost pets will lose their lives.

Bergen County Animal Shelter also refuses to provide rescues or adopters information over the phone about shelter animals. Obviously, any shelter that refuses to talk to rescues who call the shelter about animals is putting animals at risk. Rescues may have to drive long distances to the shelter and may not make the trip if the facility fails to provide important details on animals. Similarly, adopters may not make the trip if the shelter insists on keeping them in the dark about animals. Simply put, this is terrible customer service that has deadly consequences.

In my humble opinion, Bergen County Animal Shelter would rather not let the public know about animals at the shelter since it doesn’t want people to know about the slaughter going on at this facility. Obviously, telling people about animals who the shelter may kill is bad publicity for a self-proclaimed “no kill” shelter.

Shelter policy on giving out information about shelter animals to public/to rescue groups:  We do not give out any information on any of our animals over the phone.  Once an animal is turned in, it becomes property of the Bergen County Animal Shelter.  If someone is interested in a particular animal, they are welcomed to come in and look at the animals.  If someone has lost an animal and they want to know if we have it, they can describe it and we can say yes, we have an animal that fits that description, you will have to come in, complete a lost pet report and walk through the shelter.  If someone has turned their animal in and they wish to reclaim it, they need to come in.  No information about any specific animal is given over the phone regarding the disposition of any animal at the shelter.  We do have a website and Facebook page for the shelter and post pictures of animals eligible for adoption.

Shelter’s Restrictive Adoption Policies Increase Killing and Costs to Taxpayers

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s adoption policies do not follow the guidance from the national animal welfare organizations as well as many no kill groups. HSUS, the ASPCA, and Best Friends all favor open or conversational based adoption processes focused on matching people with the right pet instead of looking for ways to deny people. Best Friends’ Co-founder, Francis Battista, described these regressive policies perfectly

The truth of the matter is that animals are dying in shelters because of outdated and discredited draconian adoption policies that are designed to protect the emotional well-being of the rescuer rather than to ensure a safe future life for a dog or cat.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s policy requiring adopters to prove they own their homes or that their landlord allows pets puts more animals at risk. The HSUS Adopters Welcome guide cites a 2014 study where landlord checks did not result in fewer returned adoptions. Furthermore, HSUS rightly points out that making people prove home ownership diverts staff time from lifesaving work and turns off adopters who feel the shelter does not trust them.

The shelter’s policy requiring entire families and their existing dogs to meet the dog the family wishes to adopt is counterproductive. The Adopters Welcome Guide from HSUS cites a 2014 study showing dog meet and greets did not increase the chance dogs would get along in the home. Such meet and greets are unreliable since both the dog in the shelter and the family’s existing dog are stressed out inside or near an animal shelter. Furthermore, some people may not want to expose their existing dog to the stress of coming to a shelter. Additionally, these meet and greets take staff time away from work that can save lives. Also, arranging meet and greets and visits with entire families often result in animals staying in the shelter longer and more lives lost if the shelter kills for lack of space. HSUS recommends that shelters only arrange meeting with entire families if the families request these meet and greets. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s onerous policy requiring meet and greets increases killing and costs to taxpayers.

Finally, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s refusal to adopt animals out as gifts results in more killing and increased costs to taxpayers. The ASPCA has authored peer reviewed research showing animals adopted out as gifts are just as loved and likely to remain in their homes as animals not adopted out as gifts. Similarly, HSUS also recommends shelters adopt out animals as gifts in their Adopters Welcome guide. Clearly, adopting out animals as gifts safely moves more animals out of shelters and reduces taxpayer costs. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s prohibition on adopting out animals as gifts is wrong, deadly and costly.

Despite all these adoption restrictions, the shelter’s return rate of 8% was about the same rate as the average shelter and actually twice as high as an urban shelter that implemented an open or conversational based adoption policy.

Limited Adoption Hours Increase Length of Stay and Killing 

Bergen County Animal Shelter is hardly open for adoptions. The facility is only open to adopters for around 4 hours on most days and does not adopt out animals on Mondays. Additionally, the shelter only adopts out animals to 5:00 pm or 5:30 pm on the other days it does adoptions except for Thursdays. On Thursdays, the shelter adopts animals out until 6:30 pm, but that may still be too early for many working people who must contend with rush-hour traffic in the area. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s limited adoption hours result in longer lengths of stay and more killing.

Adoption Profiles Paint Dogs in a Terrible Light

Adoption profiles are marketing tools designed to bring people into the shelter to consider adopting. Best Friends advises shelters and rescues to accentuate an animal’s positives. Similarly, the Deputy Animal Services Officer of Austin Animal Center, which is the largest no kill animal control shelter in the country, strongly recommends shelters use adoption profiles to market animals and adoption counseling sessions to disclose all facts about animals and provide guidance on transitioning the dog into a home environment. Specifically, this successful municipal no kill shelter leader states to not put home restrictions in the adoption profile itself. Obviously, writing a negative adoption profile can prevent people from coming to the shelter to adopt. Thus, shelters should use adoption profiles to bring people into the shelter where adopters and shelter staff/volunteers can honestly discuss the animal and determine if the pet is the right fit for the family.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s dog adoption profiles turn adopters off. The shelter’s dog adoption profiles read very much like the shelter’s overly harsh behavioral evaluations. Basically, they highlight alleged flaws and make them seem like overwhelming problems. Often, the shelter makes it seem like Cesar Milan or Victoria Stillwell could only adopt these dogs.

The shelter’s adoption profile for Fawn illustrates this misguided philosophy. The adoption profile states the following about Fawn:

  1. She is shy
  2. Has an unknown history
  3. Needs a calmer home
  4. Do not socialize until she forms a bond with the family
  5. Need to do various things to build her trust
  6. Was returned to the shelter
  7. Gets anxious if she feels confined and out of options
  8. No first time owners
  9. No children

After reading this profiles, how many potential good homes ruled out Fawn without ever meeting her? While I personally think some of these faults may not be accurate, the shelter should not write such damning adoption profiles as it makes Fawn and shelter animals in general seem like damaged goods.

Fawn Adoption Profile
Bergen County Animal Shelter’s adoption profile for Brooklyn also hurts her chances for adoption. While the shelter took a great photo, the language reads more like a legal disclaimer than a marketing effort. Specifically, the shelter stated the following about Brooklyn:

  1. She is a special needs adoption
  2. She needs a very experienced home
  3. Needs an adult only home that has experience with dog behavior issues
  4. Needs a home with no other pets and kids

Speaking as someone who adopted a dog with a similar label as Brooklyn, I have to think how my family could not adopt her. We are not an adult only home and therefore would be rejected. Furthermore, we’ve fostered numerous dogs (who all got along good to great with our dog who had the same label as Brooklyn) that would also disqualify us from adopting Brooklyn. After posting this profile, the shelter basically ruled out hundreds or even thousands of homes without ever talking with these people. Thus, Brooklyn, who has been at the shelter since April 27, 2015, has stayed at the facility way longer than she should have.

Brooklyn Adoption Profile.jpg

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s adoption profile for Captain America also made it harder for him to find a good home. The profile states the following:

  1. He is not polite
  2. People will need to have lots of time to train and exercise him
  3. He is not properly socialized
  4. He will mess up your house
  5. Adult homes (17 years old plus) only can adopt him

Clearly, this adoption profile would eliminate most potential good homes for Captain America for his main crime of being a big puppy. In fact, Dr. Emily Weiss of the ASPCA has written that shelters should in fact adopt out dogs like Captain America to families with young children. Significant numbers of shelter dogs fit Captain America’s description and do fine in many homes. Unfortunately, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s awful marketing and insane adoption policies relegate dogs like Captain America to long shelter stays and even death.


Shelter Makes it Difficult for Volunteers to Help Animals

Bergen County Animal Shelter makes volunteers sign a form that may make these kindhearted people think twice about helping animals. The shelter’s volunteer manual includes a form that requires volunteers who work with cats or dogs to sign off on having around 2 dozen “essential” physical, mental and emotional capabilities and other abilities. Some of the “essential capabilities” include

  1. “Quick reflexes and ability to use both hands simultaneously”
  2. “Must have the ability to judge an animal’s reaction and to change voice to a soft or strong, authoritative tone in order to calm a dog’s response or give commands”
  3. “Possess immune system strong enough to tolerate exposures to zoonotic diseases such as ringworm and mange”
  4. “Ability to cope with unexpected animal behavior without assistance”

While these characteristics are good to have, making volunteers sign off on all these may very well make many good people think twice about volunteering. In other words, its a way for Bergen County Animal Shelter to say it has a volunteer program, but reduce the number of pesky volunteers who could expose the shelter for the fraud that it is. Furthermore, this form is a politically convenient way for a regressive health department to limit the number of people exposed to animals they views as public health risks.

Bergen County Animal Shelter also has very restrictive dog handling protocols that hinder dog socialization and efforts to adopt out these animals. For example, volunteers never can allow, unless they receive permission from the behavioral staff, two dogs to intermingle or go nose to nose within 10 feet of each other. Furthermore, volunteers cannot do meet and greets (i.e. dog introductions) unless they have been trained by the behavioral staff, shadow the behavioral staff or an approved volunteer on at least two meet and greets, “have a very good understanding of canine body language”, and have at least 40 volunteer hours. Clearly, volunteers do not need these inordinate amount of restrictions unless the shelter views all dogs as ticking time bombs. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter prevents volunteers from helping dogs as much as these animal loving people could.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s puts massive roadblocks up for volunteers wishing to simply walk dogs. To walk green coded dogs, which are typically under 35 pounds, have no behavioral issues, and are highly adoptable, volunteers must do a number of things including

  1. Complete an orientation with the Friends of the County Animal Shelter (FOCAS) group and another orientation with Bergen County Animal Shelter
  2. Complete 4 “Buddy Hours” with an approved “Buddy”
  3. Pay dues to FOCAS
  4. Must brush/groom dogs and practice obedience commands and tricks

In other words, to even walk the easiest of dogs, volunteers have to go through hours of training, pay fees for the privilege to walk dogs, and agree to do obedience training. Thus, the shelter’s overbearing requirements make it difficult for people to volunteer to walk the easiest of dogs.

The shelter makes it even more difficult to volunteer to walk dogs coded blue. These dogs, which are typically 35-50 pounds, have never bitten, are “medium” leash pullers, have “mild to moderate jumping or mouthing problems”, and can include “shy or frightened dogs.” Simply put, these are very common dogs at every shelter that almost any volunteer can handle. However, Bergen County Animal Shelter requires volunteers to do the following things in addition to the green coded dog requirements:

  1. Must volunteer regularly for at least one month
  2. Must attend 6 weeks of obedience training classes with a perfect attendance record with a practice dog
  3. Must pass an evaluation of the volunteer’s abilities, including knowledge of dog training (if they fail, the volunteer may or may not get the chance to go through more training to pass this evaluation)
  4. Must enforce commands dogs learned
  5. Must teach dogs commands, tricks, proper leash manners, and manners around people

Thus, the shelter needlessly makes it difficult to walk dogs that almost anyone could safely walk.

Bergen County Animal Shelter makes it extremely tough for volunteers to walk dogs coded yellow. Yellow coded dogs include hard leash pullers, jump/mouthy dogs, high energy animals, dogs who have been at the shelter for several months, extremely shy dogs who might snap if pushed too far, dogs who have minor aggression (i.e. food guarding, problems around other dogs or children) and dogs who have left Level 1, Level 2 or Level 3 bites (dogs who have left Level 3 bites also fall under the next more restrictive category at the shelter). According to Dr. Ian Dunbar’s dog bite scale, these are very minor bites:

  1. Level 1. Obnoxious or aggressive behavior but no skin-contact by teeth
  2. Level 2- Skin-contact by teeth but no skin-puncture. However, may be skin nicks (less than one tenth of an inch deep) and slight bleeding caused by forward or lateral movement of teeth against skin, but no vertical punctures.
  3. Level 3- One to four punctures from a single bite with no puncture deeper than half the length of the dog’s canine teeth. Maybe lacerations in a single direction, caused by victim pulling hand away, owner pulling dog away, or gravity (little dog jumps, bites and drops to floor).

Two of the three bites cause no real physical harm and the third causes only a minor injury. In other words, most of the yellow coded dogs are easily handled by people with the physical strength to handle a hard pulling or energetic dog.

To walk a yellow coded dog, a volunteer must go through the following hurdles in addition to those they did to walk green and blue coded dogs:

  1. Must volunteer for at least 6 months
  2. Must have at least 2 hours of behavior instruction during volunteer training classes
  3. Must train a yellow coded dog and pass an evaluation on their ability to handle the dog and ability to conduct obedience training (if they fail, the volunteer may or may not get the chance to go through more training to pass this evaluation)
  4. Complete yellow coded dog course homework
  5. Must keep a log when required of all interactions and training done for each dog and give to trainer once a month

With the possible exception of dogs who have Level 3 bites on their records, these requirements to simply walk a dog are insane. At numerous shelters I volunteered at, I and many other people safely handled many dogs like these with virtually no instructions. Of course, a shelter should train its volunteers and have some restrictions, but these are overkill.

Black Diamonds are the shelter’s most risky category of dogs that certain volunteers can walk. While some of these dogs may have serious behavior issues that do require a very experienced volunteer, some of these dogs can be walked by reasonably competent people. For example, this category includes dogs who have “serious” food guarding issues ,”problems around other dogs”, display “problem fence fighting” behavior, and act “excessively” mouthy, pushy, jumpy and unruly as well as dogs who are “extremely shy or fearful” and “who could snap if pushed too far.” However, this category also includes dogs with predictable behavior problems that respond to training and dogs who have been at the shelter for several months. Basically, these are dogs that were evaluated by the shelter’s trainers and determined to have serious behavior issues that may potentially be fixable. However, as we saw in Part 2, many of the dogs doing worse on these evaluations (i.e. killed by the shelter) were dogs that could easily go to most homes. Therefore, I’m highly suspicious of any dog the shelter claims is such a risk unless it actually has inflicted a very serious bite on someone.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s requirements to walk dogs labeled as Black Diamonds are nearly impossible for volunteers to meet. To walk a Black Diamond dog, volunteers must meet all the green, blue and yellow coded dog requirements and do the following

  1. Volunteer at the shelter for at least one year
  2. Attend all required training classes or regularly keep in touch with the trainer/head shelter staff member
  3. Must attend 2 hour Black Diamond dog course and complete all homework
  4. Must have at least 4 hours of experience with a trainer or Supervising Animal Attendant
  5. Must attend a 7 week course with a Black Diamond coded dog and pass an evaluation on their ability to handle the dog and ability to conduct obedience training (if they fail, the volunteer may or may not get the chance to go through more training to pass this evaluation)
  6. Must keep a log when required of all interactions and training done for each dog and give to trainer once a month

Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter makes it virtually impossible to simply walk many dogs who could be safely handled by lots of people and are in most need of socialization, exercise and help.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s volunteer logs prove that these restrictions hurt the facility’s animals. Recently, I requested 3 weeks of volunteer logs from August 2016. Volunteer hours during this period totaled around 245 hours. If we assume volunteer hours stayed at this rate for the entire year, volunteers would provide 4,247 hours annually to the shelter. As a comparison, volunteers at KC Pet Project, which only took over the Kansas City, Missouri animal control shelter a few years ago, logged 30,681 hours in 2015. Similarly, volunteers at the Nevada Humane Society, which is an animal control shelter, contributed 43,259 hours in 2015. In other words, these two no kill animal control shelters, which serve similar numbers of people as Bergen County Animal Shelter, built volunteer programs that log around 7-10 times more hours than Bergen County Animal Shelter. While volunteers at Bergen County Animal Shelter may have contributed some additional hours outside of the shelter, it would not come close to reducing this huge gap. Thus, Bergen County’s hostile attitude towards volunteers and killing results in fewer volunteers, animals not receiving the help they need, and increased costs to taxpayers.

Perhaps the most telling thing about how the shelter views its volunteers is the fact that it prohibits volunteers from counseling adopters or even showing dogs to adopters unless specific permission is granted by the behavioral staff. If the people who know the dogs the best can’t show dogs to adopters, how does one expect adopters to understand the dogs they will bring home?

Spreading Dangerous Myths About Shelter Dogs and Pit Bulls

The shelter’s volunteer manual also gives away its anti-animals views. Specifically, it states pit bulls require owners who are “MORE responsible than other dog owners” and suggests the breed is more of a liability risk. Sadly, this messaging flies in the face of recent research showing that

  1. Breed identification in shelters is often unreliable
  2. All animals should be treated as individuals

Is it any wonder why the shelter killed 4 out of 5 adult pit bulls requiring new homes?

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s volunteer manual also stated large numbers of dogs in shelters are damaged goods. Specifically, the manual states a “good amount of them are here because of behavior issues” and ALL dogs adopted from shelters require “some measure of rehabilitation” in a home. Frankly, this sums up the Bergen County Health Department’s views on shelter dogs perfectly and explains why they kill so many of these homeless pets.

Bergen County Animal Shelter Requires Wholesale Change

Bergen County Animal Shelter is a high kill rather than a no kill shelter. As Part 1 of this series of blogs documented, 33% of dogs, 42% of cats and 50% of pit bulls lost their lives at the Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. If we only count animals not reclaimed by their owners, 49% of dogs, 44% of cats, 67% of pit bull like dogs and 83% of pit bull like dogs labeled as “adults” lost their lives at this so-called “no kill” facility. Clearly, these death rates vastly exceed the 10% or lower death rate that is generally accepted to meet no kill status. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter operates more like a slaughterhouse than a no kill shelter.

The shelter also failed to comply with the weak Asilomar Accords to determine whether the shelter killed healthy and treatable animals. Part 1 of this series of blogs discussed that a condition is treatable under the Asilomar Accords if a “reasonable and caring pet owner/guardian in the community would provide the treatment necessary to make the animal healthy” or “maintain a satisfactory quality of life.” Based on Bergen County being one of the wealthiest counties in the nation (i.e. pet owners provide lots of care to their animals) and the absurd justifications documented in Part 2 of this series of blogs, Bergen County Animal Shelter clearly killed healthy and treatable animals even by the weak Asilomar Accords standards.

Bergen County Executive, James Tedesco, and the Board of Chosen Freeholders lied to the public when they declared the county shelter a no kill facility. Clearly, these elected county leaders knew that their constituents, who as a whole are highly educated and love animals, want their tax dollars to support a no kill facility. Instead of doing the necessary work to serve Bergen County residents, the elected officials bragged about their shelter being no kill when it was in fact high kill.

Not only was the shelter actually a high kill facility, but it also violated state shelter law. In Part 2, I documented numerous occasions where the shelter illegally killed owner surrendered animals during the 7 day hold period. Also, the shelter failed to keep proper records at times as required by law. Additionally, the shelter’s euthanasia logs listed highly questionable weights that suggested the shelter might not have actually weighed animals prior to euthanasia/killing as required by law. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated state law.

Bergen County residents should be outraged that their tax dollars support a high kill shelter that conducts illegal activities and their elected leaders tried to deceive their constituents. Frankly, many politicians who defrauded the public to this extent on other issues saw their political careers end quickly. If James Tedesco and the Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders are smart, they’d come clean and make wholesale changes at the shelter.

Bergen County needs to overhaul the shelter’s leadership. First, the county should remove the Department of Health Services control over the shelter and have the Shelter Director report directly to the County Executive or his designee. Second, the shelter should hire a successful shelter director or assistant director from a medium to large size no kill animal control shelter. Certainly, Bergen County, which is one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, can afford to pay someone who really knows what they are doing. Additionally, Bergen County is a very attractive location for a shelter director with its close proximity to New York City, its great schools, and its educated and wealthy population. Once the county hires a new Shelter Director who would have the authority to make key decisions under this operating structure, he or she can replace behavior and medical staff that are quick to kill animals.

Bergen County Animal Shelter can and should be highly successful. The facility only took in 7.2 dogs and cats per 1,000 residents in 2015. As a comparison, the Austin, Texas animal control shelter took in 15.6 dogs and cats per 1,000 residents and saved 94% of its dogs and cats in 2015. In August 2016, which is one of the highest intake months of the year, this municipal shelter saved over 98% of the 756 dogs and more than 96% of the 694 cats that left the shelter. Bergen County Animal Shelter also has a larger and more modern facility than many other shelters in the area. Furthermore, the facility is located in a major shopping area with lots of traffic. As a result, Bergen County Animal Shelter can not only become a no kill facility, it can take on more municipalities by safely placing animals more quickly.

Bergen County resident must demand immediate action from James Tedesco and the Board of Chosen Freeholders. Three of the seven Board of Chosen Freeholders’ seats (including incumbents, Maura DeNicola and Thomas J. Sullivan, who approved the fraudulent declaration that Bergen County Animal Shelter is no kill) are up for election this November and voters have an excellent opportunity to make their voices heard about the shelter. Simply put, Bergen County residents must make the Bergen County Animal Shelter no kill con job a key election issue and demand a credible plan to quickly make the facility a real no kill shelter.

The lives of thousands of animals in Bergen County are on the line this November. Let’s make the voices of animal loving residents heard.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s No Kill Con Job (Part 2 of 3)

In Part 1 of this series of blogs, I reported details on Bergen County Animal Shelter’s high kill rate despite the county’s elected officials claiming the facility is no kill. This blog examines the reasons Bergen County Animal Shelter uses to kill massive numbers of animals.

Data Reviewed

Under the Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”), I requested all documents supporting animals killed/euthanized, such as owner surrender forms, adoption and rescue paperwork, veterinary records and invoices, euthanasia records, and any other documents pertaining to each animal for a couple of months in 2015. Additionally, I obtained the shelter’s Standard Operating Procedures manual. My objective was to obtain a complete understanding of the job Bergen County Animal Shelter is doing.

Absurd Justifications for Killing Dogs

Bergen County Animal Shelter cited “behavior issues” and “medical issues” for killing approximately 2/3 and 1/3 of the dogs in the sample of records I reviewed. Assuming these percentages apply to all dogs Bergen County Animal Shelter killed in 2015, the shelter killed approximately 21% of all dog who had outcomes for “behavior issues.” However, the No Kill Advocacy Center’s review of shelter data found only 1%-2% of all dogs arriving at shelters are a serious danger to people and cannot be rehabilitated. In other words, Bergen County Animal Shelter kills dogs for aggression at around 10-20 times the rate of high performing no kill animal control shelters. If the percentages in my sample are consistent with all of the dogs Bergen County Animal Shelter killed in 2015, the shelter killed 11% of all impounded dogs for “medical issues.” Assuming a well-run no kill animal control shelter saves 95% of all dogs and euthanizes 1%-2% for aggression, these facilities likely only euthanize 3%-4% of all dogs due to the animals hopelessly suffering. Therefore, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed dogs at around 3-4 times the rate for medical issues as well-run no kill animal control shelters. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s reasons for killing dogs raise red flags.

Bergen Dogs Killed ReasonsThe behavior issues Bergen County Animal Shelter cited are listed in the table below. Most disturbing, the shelter reported no specific reason for killing more than half the dogs for behavior issues in the sample I examined. As discussed in my prior blog, Bergen County Animal Shelter concluded every single animal it killed was “unhealthy and untreatable.”

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s killing dogs for kennel stress (i.e. barrier reactivity, cage aggression, etc.) is not consistent with no kill. Kennel stress was the second most common reason for killing due to behavior issues. As Dogs Playing for Life states, barrier reactivity is “not an accurate indicator of a dog’s social skills.” Volunteers at most animal shelters will tell you how different dog behavior is inside a cage at a stressful shelter and outside in real world situations. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s assertion that kennel stress is “untreatable” makes no sense.

The shelter’s killing of dogs who were food aggressive fails to meet no kill standards. The ASPCA, which is far from a no kill organization, removed food aggression tests from its SAFER behavioral evaluation tool and instead advises shelters to provide all adopters information on how to manage food aggression. Around half the time, dogs who display food aggression in a stressful shelter do not do so in a home. On the other hand, many dogs who pass food aggression tests in a shelter exhibit the trait in a home setting. Simply put, testing a dog who is stressed out at a shelter and may have recently not had regular access to food, is an unreliable way to determine if a dog will display this behavior in a home. Also, food guarding is a behavior that shelters can easily modify by hand feeding. Even if a dog remains food aggressive in a home, most people are willing to live with it based on a recent scientific study. As a result, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s classifying dogs displaying food guarding behavior as “untreatable” is incorrect and not consistent with no kill.

Bergen County Animal Shelter also killed a number of dogs for jumpy/mouthy behavior. As the Center for Shelter Dogs states, jumpy/mouthy behavior often occurs in adolescent dogs in shelters due to “decreased interaction with people, decreased exercise, and lack of control of their environment.” Jumpy/mouthy behavior is highly treatable in a shelter and people can effectively reduce it on walks by using a Gentle Leader collar. Furthermore, I noticed many dogs stop displaying this behavior when the animals go to a home. To argue these dogs pose a serious danger to people or other animals or that a “a reasonable and caring pet owner/guardian” would kill their pet for this reason is absurd. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s classifying jumpy/mouthy dogs as “unreatable” is incorrect and not consistent with no kill.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s killing of dogs due to dog aggression is not consistent with no kill in my view. While I recognize some no kill shelters kill dogs with severe dog aggression, I believe that experienced owners can manage this behavior. In fact, I am one such owner. Additionally, I’ve found very few people, particularly in a wealthy area like Bergen County, would kill their dog for displaying dog aggression. However, as you will see later in this blog, the shelter’s classifying of dogs as dog aggressive is highly suspect.

Bergen 2015 Dogs Killed for Behavior Issues Reasons

Bergen County Animal Shelter killed numerous dogs for “behavior issues”, but never actually documented what those problems were. Dog ID# 16973 in the table below (right click table and click “Open image in new tab” to see a more legible image) was a pit bull like dog that arrived as a stray at Bergen County Animal Shelter on July 8, 2015. After 17 days, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed her for “behavior issues”, but never specified what those alleged behavior problems were.

Bergen no reason for killing for behavior1

Dog ID# 17068 was a stray pit bull mix who arrived at Bergen County Animal Shelter on July 15, 2015. After just 11 days, the shelter killed her for “behavior issues” despite not specifying what those alleged problems were.

On July 15, 2015, Dutchess was surrendered by his owner to Bergen County Animal Shelter. After 26 days, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed him for “behavior issues”, but never documented what those alleged problems were.

17068 17069 bergen

Temperament Testing Dogs to Death

Bergen County Animal Shelter used discredited harsh behavioral evaluation methods. Recently, a new scientific study found behavioral evaluations were scientifically invalid and recommended shelters instead socialize dogs to truly determine behavior. Even the proponents of temperament testing, such as the ASPCA, state shelters should use evaluations to identify a behavioral rehabilitation plan to make the animal adoptable. Based on my review of numerous evaluations of dogs that the shelter killed, the shelter simply used these tests to justify killing “untreatable” animals.

Captain was a 5 year old poodle surrendered by his owner to the Bergen County Animal Shelter on November 3, 2015. Based on his evaluation below, Captain, like many toy breeds, was traumatized after arriving at a scary shelter. In his kennel, he barked, which is not unusual in toy breeds and other dogs at shelters. Once out of the kennel, Captain allowed the temperament tester to check his teeth, which is quite intrusive for many dogs. Additionally, Captain let the tester pick him up despite being “a little unsure and nervous” at first. In fact, Captain “went belly up for petting” and sat by the tester while the person typed up the evaluation that would ultimately kill him.

Bergen County Animal Shelter condemned Captain to death for displaying protective behavior in his kennel and nipping a stranger’s leg during his evaluation. During Captain’s evaluation a stranger entered the room and Captain “tentatively bit stranger’s leg”, but caused no puncture wound. Captain then retreated to “his handler for safety.” Captain, like so many toy breeds, nipped the legs of a stranger and caused no injury. In a re-test conducted the very next day, Captain would not approach the stranger and “lunged when the stranger moved away.” The evaluation also dinged Captain for being aggressive in his kennel, which has no relationship to real life conditions.

Clearly, Captain was a small dog who was fearful. As the evaluation showed, Captain exhibited many positive behaviors, but displayed some fearful ones. After all, Captain was on death row in a shelter that is quick to kill. Wouldn’t you be a bit scared in that environment especially if a stranger just barges into your evaluation room or towards your kennel? Let’s be real, a small poodle is never a serious danger to people, especially if put in the right home (i.e. no small children). Despite calling itself a no kill shelter, Bergen County Animal Shelter never tried to rehabilitate Captain, never documented any attempt to send him to a rescue or a foster home, and recommended killing him “due to unpredictable aggressive nature, dog will likely bite when protecting his territory or home environment.” Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter did nothing more than temperament test Captain to death.

Bergen Captain Evaluation Part 1.jpg

Bergen Captain Evaluation Part 2.jpgSpike was a 3 year old Labrador retriever surrendered by his owner to the Bergen County Animal Shelter on November 13, 2015. After spending around 4 weeks at the facility, the shelter evaluated Spike. The evaluation recommended killing Spike since he “is not manageable in a shelter environment” and two rescues couldn’t take him. During the evaluation, Spike didn’t “continue to engage” the handler and therefore had “an asocial nature that is inappropriate for the breed.” What were these “asocial” behaviors? These included rolling on his back and “jumping roughly on people” “to get people to STOP interacting with him.” The evaluation then made the leap of faith to state “if something annoys him, may follow through with a bite if not left alone.” The evaluation also cited Spike for being “very hard to manage on leash” and having an “unknown history” and a “very poor kennel presence” as “red flags” to support killing him. Bergen County Animal Shelter killed Spike one week after this evaluation. Personally, I’ve evaluated and interacted with tons of shelter dogs meeting this exact description and never would consider killing a dog for these reasons. Frankly, the evaluation sounded like it came from a heartless breed snob that would kill any individual animal not meeting the breed standard. Apparently, the evaluator could read Spike’s mind and determine common dog behaviors, such as rolling on his back, jumping, rubbing against a person and “intensely sniffing shoes” were intended to repel people away. Furthermore, the evaluator cited this as a reason why he is a bite risk. Condemning a dog to death for these things is simply unacceptable and even more so for a self-proclaimed “no kill” shelter.The shelter made little effort to save Spike. The shelter did not document any enrichment activities (Spike would have benefited greatly from playgroups), or any rehabilitation efforts to solve his alleged issues. Even worse, the shelter acted as if they did their duty by contacting a couple of rescues privately. If Spike truly required time out of the shelter and specialized training, Bergen County Animal Shelter could have placed him in a foster home. For example, Virginia’s Fairfax Animal Services was able to save 90% of dogs with aggression issues by sending those animals to foster homes. Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter could have made public pleas to rescues to save Spike. Given he was a highly sought after Labrador retriever, many fosters would have stepped up. Simply put, Bergen County Animal Shelter failed Spike at every level.Bergen Spike Evaluation.jpgDog ID# 17117 was a 10-12 month old stray pit bull impounded by Bergen County Animal Shelter on July 18, 2015. Ten days after her arrival, the shelter evaluated her while she was in heat and sneezing. The evaluation, which included intrusive teeth checking and hugging tests, found she was friendly with people. However, the evaluator still decided to kill this young “wiggly”, “tail wagging”and “excited” young dog. The shelter claimed this dog was “not kenneling well” and she was dog aggressive.

How did this “no kill” shelter determine this young dog in heat was dog aggressive? They walked her down the kennels at the shelter and she “lunged at small dogs in kennels” and “showed a lot of focus” towards medium to large dogs and barked and growled when other dogs got agitated. So basically this dog was being a dog. Anyone who has volunteered at a shelter could say this about almost any dog walked out of the shelter past other dogs in cages. However, the canine behavior experts at Bergen County Animal Shelter made the thunderous conclusion that “she was not a quality adoption candidate” due to “dog aggresion” that “poses a liability and will limit home options.” Clearly, Bergen County Animal Shelter looked for a reason to kill this highly adoptable young grey pit bull.

Bergen Dog ID 17117 Evaluation Part 1Bergen Dog ID 17117 Evaluation Part 2

Dog ID# 17052 was a stray pit bull Bergen County Animal Shelter impounded on July 13, 2015. After over a month at the facility, the shelter decided to evaluate Dog ID# 17052. Based on the shelter’s evaluation below, this was a high energy and jumpy dog. Basically, a big puppy. In fact, the ASPCA’s Dr. Emily Weiss often cites research showing most people actually prefer dogs that jump and interact with people over more laid back animals. However, according to the behavior puritans at the Bergen County Animal Shelter, this dog had “difficult behaviors”, such as “quick arousal” and an “intense and persistent personality.” The evaluation goes on to say the dog “could be dangerous if not in the hands of an experienced handler.” Despite “jumping on the handler”, the evaluator claims the dog “lacks interest in people.” For these crimes, the evaluator sentenced this dog to death and the shelter killed her 6 days later. No rehabilitation efforts, no outreach, just a lethal injection.

Bergen Dog ID 17052 Evaluation

Inadequate Medical Reasons for Killing Dogs

The “medical issues” Bergen County Animal Shelter used for killing dogs are listed in the table below. Clearly, Bergen County Animal Shelter cited owner-requested euthanasia as the medical issue in most cases.

Bergen Medical Issues Dogs Reasons

Bergen County Animal Shelter provided no reason in most cases for killing animals allegedly surrendered by their owners for euthanasia due to “medical issues.”

Bergen Owner Requested Euth Dogs Medical.jpg

Given Bergen County Animal Shelter killed every single one of these dogs on the day the animal arrived at the facility or the day after, you would expect the shelter to clearly document the medical reasons for doing so. Under state law, shelters cannot kill companion animals, including owner surrenders, for 7 full days. In practice, the New Jersey Department of Health allows shelters to euthanize animals during the 7 day hold period if both of the following conditions are met:

  1. If a veterinarian deems euthanasia necessary for humane reasons to prevent excessive suffering when illness and injury is severe and the prognosis for recovery is extremely poor
  2. Only a licensed veterinarian should perform euthanasia in the above situation and they must clearly document the rationale in the animal’s medical record

Most disturbing was the case of two bulldogs, Willy and Viki, surrendered by their owner on November 14, 2015. Willy was 8 years old and Vicki was 9 years old. Bergen County Animal Shelter only cited “Elective euthanasia requested by owner” and killed the two dogs on the day they arrived at the shelter. Both dogs surrendered by their owner could not possibly be hopelessly suffering. Therefore, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated the 7 day hold period for owner surrenders.

18809 ORE.jpg

18810 ORE

Bergen County Animal Shelter even killed some dogs allegedly surrendered by their owners for euthanasia due to behavior reasons. As the New Jersey Department of Health guidance above states, shelters may only euthanize hopelessly suffering animals, and not animals the shelter considers aggressive, for 7 days. Sky was a 2 year old pit bull surrendered by her owner allegedly for euthanasia on July 20, 2015. The shelter killed this dog for “behavior issues” on the very same day.

17141 ORE Behavior Pt 1.jpg

17141 ORE Behavior Pt 2.jpg

Chico was an 11 year Lhasa Apso mix surrendered by his owner allegedly for euthanasia on July 10, 2015. The shelter cited “behavior issues” and killed Chico on the very same day. Once again, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated the 7 day hold period for owner surrendered animals.

17020 ORE behaviorBergen County Animal Shelter also failed to properly justify killing dogs during the 7 day hold period when it listed an actual medical reason. Zena was a 5 year old pit bull surrendered by her owner on July 3, 2015 allegedly for euthanasia. According to the record below (right click and click “Open image in new tab” to see a more legible version), the dog “had severe skin issues”, the dog was “taken to several vets over the years” and Zena was “starting to become aggressive with children because she is always in pain.” Bergen County Animal Shelter used this explanation as a basis for killing her on the day after she arrived at the facility. The shelter never specified what those skin issues were. Additionally, no shelter should kill a dog, let alone a 5 year old animal in the middle of her life, for skin issues. While some skin issues are tough to treat, there are many alternative treatments to try that can cure the condition or at least mitigate the symptoms. Frankly, Bergen County Animal Shelter did little to save this dog and used Zena’s skin issues as an excuse to kill her. No kill shelters go the extra mile to treat animals and don’t just write them off.

Zena Reason

Zena ORE

Bergen County Animal Shelter kills too many dogs almost immediately due to owners allegedly surrendering their animals for euthanasia. As a comparison, KC Pet Project, which is Kansas City’s animal control shelter, euthanized 68 dogs or 0.15 dogs per 1,000 people who were surrendered by their owners for euthanasia in 2015. On the other hand, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed 103 dogs or 0.23 dogs per 1,000 people who were surrendered by their owners for euthanasia in 2015. In other words, Bergen County Animal Shelter had 53% more dogs requested by their owners for euthanasia. Even worse, Bergen County Animal Shelter should have significantly fewer dogs requested by their owners for euthanasia due to Bergen County Animal Shelter serving a much wealthier population that can afford to use a private veterinarian for end of life care. Thus, the unusually high number of dogs requested by their owners for euthanasia and the absurd reasons Bergen County Animal Shelter documented suggests many of these animals were not hopelessly suffering.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s owner requested euthanasia statistics and records raise disturbing questions. At best, Bergen County Animal Shelter simply accepts an owner’s reason for requesting euthanasia, asks no questions, and kills the dog for a fee. On the other hand, Bergen County Animal Shelter could coerce people into signing off on killing their dogs. Given Bergen County Animal Shelter excluded dogs requested by their owners for euthanasia from their statistics reported to the New Jersey Department of Health and their live release rate calculations under the Asilomar Accords, the shelter benefits from putting dogs into this category. In fact, former Maddie’s Fund President, Richard Avanzino, stated a decade ago that shelters should stop deceiving people by excluding these animals from their statistics. As a result, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s negligence or outright deception has killed many dogs who had bright futures ahead of them.

Poor Reasons for Killing Cats

Bergen County Animal Shelter cited “medical issues” and “behavior issues” for killing 53% and 47% of the cats in the sample of records I reviewed. Assuming these percentages apply to all cats Bergen County Animal Shelter killed in 2015, the shelter killed approximately 19% and 16% of all cats who had outcomes for “medical issues” and “behavior issues.” Data from large no kill animal control shelters across the nation show 10% or fewer of the cats these facilities take in must be humanely euthanized for medical reasons. Therefore, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s kill rate for medical issues is around twice that level indicating the shelter kills many treatable cats. If we add the 788 cats Bergen County Animal Shelter claims it trapped, neutered and released in 2015 to 47% of the 619 cats I estimate Bergen County Animal Shelter killed for “behavior issues”, the shelter classified approximately 42% of the cats it took in as feral or aggressive. Based on data I’ve reviewed from many shelters, around 20% or less of cats animal control shelters take in are initially aggressive (and many of these respond to socialization). That means Bergen County Animal Shelter labels cats as feral or aggressive at twice the rate of the typical animal control shelter. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter kills too many cats it classifies as “untreatable.”


Shelter Kills Cats with Treatable Medical Issues

The table below lists the top reasons Bergen County Animal Shelter used to kill/euthanize cats for “medical issues” in the sample I reviewed.

Bergen Cats Killed for Medical Issues.jpg

Bergen County Animal Shelter killed many cats for no documented medical reason other than owner-requested euthanasia. The shelter alleged owners requested the facility to euthanize 6 of these 10 cats. In fact, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed every single one of these cats on the day the cat arrived at the shelter. As mentioned above, shelters cannot kill animals during the 7 day hold period unless their veterinarian clearly documents why the animal is hopelessly suffering and the veterinarian euthanizes the animal. Therefore, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated the 7 day hold period for each of these animals. None of these cats were very young kittens that could easily succumb to illness. 4 of the 6 cats were 15 years and older, but the shelter documented no health issues. As a result, Bergen County Animal Shelter appeared to just kill cats allegedly brought in by their owners for euthanasia or possibly coerced people to allow the shelter to kill their pets.

Cat ID# 16955 was a 10 year old male domestic tabby allegedly surrendered by his owner for euthanasia on July 7 2015. Despite having an owner, Bergen County Animal Shelter listed no name for this cat. Bergen County Animal Shelter killed this cat on the very day he arrived at the shelter for no reason other than “Medical Issues” and “Euthanasia Request” in violation of state law.

Cat 16955 killed
Bergen County Animal Shelter euthanized four other cats in the sample for no documented medical reason. Only 1 of the 4 cats was a very young kitten that might have been susceptible to severe illness. The shelter simply killed these cats and did not disclose the specific medical issue. For example, Cat ID# 17032 was a 14 year and 3 month old cat allegedly surrendered by her owner on July 11, 2015. Despite the shelter stating she had an owner, no one documented her name in her records. Bergen County Animal Shelter killed her 25 days later and simply stated “Medical Issues” and “o.surrender.”

Cat ID 17032 killed

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or FIV is a disease similar to HIV that weakens a cat’s immune system. Generally speaking, FIV is difficult to spread as it is only passed to other cats through deep bite wounds. While the disease can compromise a cat’s immune system, some cats can live many years pretty much like a normal cat. Practically speaking, FIV cats should be altered and live either alone or with other cats that are compatible with them. While these cats may need extra care, progressive shelters save these animals and adopt them out.

Bergen County Animal Shelter killed FIV positive cats that did not look like they were hopelessly suffering. Cat ID# 16903 was a stray 18 month old cat impounded from Closter on July 2, 2015. After testing positive for FIV, the shelter killed him. The cat’s records did not report any symptoms or other health problems. Simply put, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed this young cat due to a positive FIV test result.

Cat 16903 Killed for FIV

Cat 16903 Killed for FIV Part 2

Feline Leukemia Virus or FeLV is a retrovirus that only affects cats. Healthy cats with normal immune systems quickly fight off the disease. However, the disease can infect cats with impaired immune systems. The disease suppresses a cat’s immune system and most cats live 2-3 years with the disease, but some animals live for a much longer period of time. In a shelter environment, FeLV positive cats won’t spread the disease as long as the animals are housed in separate areas and shelters adhere to proper cleaning and disease control protocols. Progressive no kill shelters, such as Austin Pets Alive, adopt out FeLV positive cats successfully. Furthermore, shelters can use foster programs to effectively house these animals outside a shelter environment.

Bergen County Animal Shelter killed an FeLV positive cat in the one FeLV record I examined. Simba (Cat ID# 18939) was a 6 year and 2 month old neutered cat surrendered by his owner on November 27, 2015. He passed his behavioral evaluation. Besides being overweight and having some dental issues, Simba did not appear as if he was hopelessly suffering at the time. However, Simba tested positive in an FeLV test and Bergen County Animal Shelter killed him. No records provided to me indicated the shelter made any effort to save Simba’s life.

Cat 18939 Killed FeLV

Cat 18939 Killed FeLV PT2.jpg

Temperament Tests Used to Kill Cats

Bergen County Animal Shelter used its feline behavioral evaluations to justify killing virtually every cat for “behavior issues” in the records I examined. Despite feline behavior experts stating shelters should not use these evaluations as a “pass/fail test on adopatabilty”, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed cats who failed these assessments almost immediately afterwards. Additionally, a recent study published in the scientific journal, Preventive Veterinary Medicine, found all cats initially classified as feral/aggressive became adoptable after 6 days when the shelter used a gradual process of gentle touching (using a stick for very aggressive cats) and talking with a soft voice. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s use of temperament testing to kill healthy and treatable cats proves the shelter is not no kill.

Cat ID# 16904 was a stray 3 year old cat impounded from Elmwood Park on July 2, 2015. On July 10, 2015, Bergen County Animal Shelter evaluated the young male cat. The behavioral assessment stated the cat comes to the front of his cage with encouragement, was indifferent to human touch, was more interested in exploring his environment than interacting with people, and was social for 1-2 minutes with people. Based on the shelter’s scoring system, most of these tests contributed negatively to the cat’s behavioral assessment. Even worse, the shelter further condemned this young cat to death by failing him on intrusive tests, such as “kid petting”, “kid’s hold”, “baby hold”, “tummy and feet” touching and “head and tail” touching. Bergen County Animal Shelter killed this young cat the very next day using this “failed” behavioral evaluation as the justification. The shelter’s records documented no effort to socialize this cat. Simply put, Bergen County Animal Shelter looked for reasons to kill this young cat.

Cat 16904 Killed Behavior Part 1

Cat 16904 Killed Behavior Part 2.jpg

Cat 16904 Killed Behavior Part 3.jpg

Cat ID# 17085 was an adult stray cat impounded by Bergen County Animal Shelter on July 15, 2015. The shelter listed the cat’s sex as “unknown” and did not document the animal’s age despite state law requiring the shelter to record the animal’s sex and age. According to the shelter’s behavioral evaluation, the cat would not come to the front of his/her cage and seemed indifferent to human touch. The shelter then noted the cat backed away when touched and was hard to pick up with a hidey box. The evaluator then stated “I feel might try and bolt if given a chance.” The evaluator wrote “done” and did not complete the rest of the cat’s behavioral evaluation. On that very day, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed this cat ostensibly due to the evaluator feeling like the cat might bolt. Apparently, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s cat evaluator feels a cat is better off dead than possibly getting out of a house one day.

Cat 17085 Killed for behavior pt 1

Cat 17085 Killed for behavior pt 2

Cat 17085 Killed for behavior pt 3.jpg

Cat ID# 17035 was a stray adult female cat impounded by Bergen County Animal Shelter on July 11, 2015. The cat stayed in front of her cage and reached out to people for attention. Additionally, the cat initiated petting by rubbing against people and moved close to people for affection. Also, the cat was more interested in people than the environment. In fact, the cat appeared to pass the shelter’s overbearing temperament test. However, Bergen County Animal Shelter still decided to kill this friendly cat since she “freaks out”, twists to get out and then bites when someone tries to pick her up. Two days later Bergen County Animal Shelter killed this cat. To kill this friendly cat for not liking shelter staff picking her up is simply unacceptable let alone for a no kill shelter.

cat 17035 killed behavior pt 1

cat 17035 killed behavior pt 2.jpg

cat 17035 killed behavior pt 3

Controversial Coyote Killing

On May 2, 2015 various news outlets reported Bergen County Animal Shelter taking in a sick coyote from Elmwood Park. The Elmwood Park Chief of Police stated the animal was a young female who weighed around 30-40 pounds. Additionally, the Chief of Police clearly said the coyote “was injured and did not appear to be aggressive.”

Over the next day, Bergen County Animal Shelter Director, Deborah Yankow, and Bergen County Health Officer, Nancy Mangieri, exchanged emails on the topic. In one email, Ms. Yankow stated the coyote was sick and was being sent for rabies testing despite no known exposures. Instead of confining the animal for observation, the shelter simply killed the coyote immediately. Clearly, Ms. Yankow was worried about the shelter’s action as she told her boss “We may get media attention if this get out there.” In response, Nancy Mangieri requested all the details about the incident and Ms. Yankow stated she would get a report from the animal control officer.

BACA Coyote Killed Emails

The ACO’s report indicated the animal was sick, but no clear signs of rabies were present. The coyote, which was clearly ill, still exhibited normal instead of aggressive behavior when it tried to elude capture. After taking the animal to the shelter, Bergen County Animal Shelter officials noticed “some hair loss around the back leg area” and killed the coyote to test her for rabies. Presumably, the shelter also decapitated the coyote to submit her brain for rabies testing. The New Jersey Department of Health’s recent guidance states shelters should not kill domestic dogs, which are so closely related to coyotes that the species can interbreed, to test for rabies unless the animal displays clinical symptoms of the disease due to the low risk of rabies in this species. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter casually killed a coyote who did not display symptoms of rabies.

BCAS Coyote Incident Report

Unsurprisingly, the lab results proved the coyote did not have rabies. Instead of confining the animal and treating her illness, the Bergen County Animal Shelter casually killed this young coyote who had her whole life ahead of her.

BCAS Coyote Rabies Test.jpg

BCAS Coyote Photo 1

BCAS Coyote Photo 2

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s Questionable Euthanasia Practices

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s euthanasia logs list suspicious weights and raise questions as to whether the shelter actually weighed the animals. You can view the logs I obtained here and here. Under N.J.A.C. 8:23A-1.11 (f) 3 and 4, shelters must weigh each animal and keep a log of those body weights as well as the drugs used to immobilize and euthanize the animals. As you can see below, Bergen County Animal Shelter used the approximation sign (i.e. ~) before all the weights raising questions as to whether staff actually weighed the animals. Furthermore, the shelter listed weights in the log that were often convenient numbers, such as 15, 70, 55, 80, 20, 30, etc. Frankly, I find it highly unlikely that many animals just happened to weigh in at these user friendly amounts.

While the doses of Fatal Plus the shelter used seemed appropriate for the weights listed, animals could have received too low of a dose if the animals really weighed much more. If animals received too small of a dose of Fatal Plus, they could have actually been alive after they were disposed of unless the shelter verified the animals were in fact dead.

BCAS Euth Weights

Clearly, Bergen County Animal Shelter uses absurd justifications to kill animals. From using temperament tests to kill adoptable animals to taking the lives of animals with treatable conditions to illegally killing animals during the 7 day hold period, Bergen County Animal Shelter fails on every level to live up to its claim of being a no kill shelter. Part 3 will examine the shelter’s policies that create this culture of killing and how we can change things for the better.